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Too much of a good thing

A <em>Gavin and Stacey</em> spin-off is long on fat jokes but short on belly laughs
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Fat people. They’re a scream, aren’t they? Partly, it’s that they’re so rare, of course, Britain being such a healthy country, everyone dashing up hill and down dale all the time, pausing only to stop for a mineral water and a slice of chilled pineapple. The sheer bloody surprise one feels when one spots a fat person struggling to get off the bus, or squeezing their backside into a teeny tiny chair, is usually enough to set me off; one glimpse, and a smirk is smeared across my face like strawberry jam for the rest of the day. But when they actually draw particular attention to their lunar buttocks and their gelatinous bellies by attempting to exercise, or by squeezing themselves into Lycra catsuits and acting all Britney Spears . . . now that is what I call funny. If only there were more of these comedians about. Peep Show and Lead Balloon are all very well, but why don’t they ever feature someone really fat showing you their bare bum?

Thank God, then, for James Corden and Mathew Horne, whose new sketch show, Horne and Corden (Tuesdays, 10.30pm), is to fat jokes what Les Dawson used to be to mothers-in-law. First up, we had Corden running around a bit, and then pretending to fall asleep while standing up because he is so, like, incredibly fat and lazy. Then there was a sketch whose punchline involved Horne remorselessly wobbling Corden’s bare belly, so that it appeared to take on an existence quite separate from the rest of his body. Fatty!

After that, he wore a Spiderman suit. Then – and why not milk a gag if it is really funny? – he dressed up like Robin Cousins at the 1980 Winter Olympics, and did a few not-very-balletic moves. Genius.

We got to see him in his pants, and his bare botty, too, which was great because his buttocks looked – hee! – like two great wheels of Brie. Were there any gags that did not involve Corden’s appearance? Let’s think. I recall an impression of Ricky Gervais, but I was so busy wishing we could get back to all the fat jokes, I’m afraid I wasn’t really concentrating.

Perhaps I’ll stop with the dripping sarcasm now. You get the message. Horne and Corden, brought to you by the stars of Gavin and Stacey, one of the sweetest and most popular TV shows in a long time, is a predictable failure. These boys have been given their own series not because they have put together a lot of good material, but because they are in Gavin and Stacey. And the result is excruciating – as funny and as puerile as a sixth-form revue, only without the benefit of in-jokes about your chemistry teacher’s BO. The sketches are too long, the laughter track is too loud, and the studio audience is too Top of the Pops – everyone looks self-conscious and mildly embarrassed. As for Mathew Horne, he also looks embarrassed – queasy, even – as well he might in the face of both Corden’s cheesy ersatz excitement (“We’ve got our own show!”) and his not-so-ersatz cockiness.

For all that he is willing to laugh at his own blubber, Corden now has a whiff of arrogance about him, one that could make audiences turn against him in the not-too-distant future. No one likes a smart arse, not even if he has a cute face and sad little eyes and has co-written an exceptionally sweet and popular TV show. It is as if Horne has been led astray by an older boy of whom he is slightly afraid. Naturally, if I were them, I would now turn this fear into a joke in which Corden sits on Horne’s face and smothers him with his rapacious bulk. But I will resist.

Oh, this is dire stuff. The best they can hope for is that a few children will snigger at it, assuming said sprogs are allowed to stay up late and that their parents have had a taste-and-decency bypass. And the best we can hope for is that Teacher – step forward, Danny Cohen, controller of BBC3 – now separates Corden from his goonish little pal, the better that they might get on with the rest of their careers.

Pick of the week

The Lost World of Communism
14 March, 9pm, BBC2
Documentary series on life as a red. Horrible and weird.

Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle
Starts 16 March, 10pm, BBC2
Superior, literate stand-up from a now veteran performer.

Red Riding
19 March, 9pm, Channel 4
All is revealed: final part of the compelling David Peace adaptation.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 16 March 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The year of the crowd